Bibi van der Velden’s Quirky Jewels Are Wearable Sculptures in Miniature

Bibi van der Velden jewelry
Bibi van der Velden‘s work testifies to her wild creativity, humor and technical adroitness. Top: The Monkey ring in a ring, as the name suggests, comprises two cocktail rings, one of which nests inside the other. The larger ring, made of rose gold and sterling silver set with diamonds and tsavorites, depicts playful monkeys and palm trees; the smaller one, made of rose, yellow and white gold, features a banana. All photos courtesy of Bibi van der Velden

A visit to Bibi van der Velden’s Amsterdam studio begins by passing through a door in the facade of a classic Dutch house that does not lead into a house. Instead, it opens, Narnia-like, to an outdoor path that leads through a courtyard garden to a 19th-century villa with winding halls connecting majestic chambers. It is a perfect metaphor for her designs.

Delightful surprises, humor and stories are woven into the Dutch designer’s work, in which details often reveal hidden secrets, and even the materials frequently tell a tale. Van der Velden’s version of the iconic Egyptian scarab ring, for instance, has its own peculiar twist: Hers are made from the iridescent, green-gold wings of actual beetles, mounted on gold and set with colored stones — bright pink or orange sapphires, diamonds and rubies.

Bibi van der Velden Rose Gold with Diamond Animals and Baroque Pearls Earrings
These drop earrings are composed of studs, embellished with brown diamonds, that can be worn alone or with clipped-on baroque pearls that have male and female lions crawling up their irregular surface.

Then there are the pieces made from 40,000-year-old wooly mammoth tusks, which attain new life in alligator earrings and pendants touched with gold, their finely detailed, flexible tails intended to wave elegantly across a décolleté or flick at the wearer’s neck. “I’m obsessed with this material,” van der Velden says of the fossilized tusk. “There’s such a romance attached to it.”

Bibi van der Velden Galaxy Collection
Left: The Galaxy ring centers on an opal surrounded by concentric ovals of gold embellished with pavé brown diamonds, blue sapphires and green tsavorites and set with a gold star and moon along with a rose-cut diamond and keshi pearl. Right: The Star and Moon Mammoth Galaxy earrings feature two orbs carved from a 60,000-year-old mammoth tusk and set with white diamonds, blue sapphires, opals and yellow gold accents. These are connected by chains composed of gold lightning bolts, stars and links set with diamonds and white opals to a moon and a star, both of gold and each attached to a post.

Whimsy abounds. A ring created for the exhibition “Jewels! Glittering at the Russian Court,” on view until March 15 at the Amsterdam branch of Russia’s Hermitage Museum, is in the form of a large parrot tulip with a gold slug and a gemstone-encrusted caterpillar crawling across its bejeweled petals. In other pieces, mouths become clasps, and a mermaid’s tail wraps around a wrist. A hefty statement ring, on which gold monkeys set with brown diamonds climb through green tsavorite palm leaves, contains, hidden within, a delicate rose-gold band adorned with a gold banana.

A lifelong collector, van der Velden draws inspiration from the objects she has accumulated. Mood boards scattered around her Amsterdam studio also often spark ideas for her pieces.

Like the Monkey ring, the designer herself is a sort of two for one. Although celebrated as a jeweler, she considers herself first and foremost a sculptor, having attended art schools in Italy and the Netherlands. Many of her fine artworks — from a massive, wall-sized necklace to alabaster busts — accent the rooms of the Amsterdam studio, where she continues to craft them along with her jewelry designs.

Bibi van der Velden Sea Creatures Collection
The glass holds two marine-themed pieces: the pendant from Poseidon’s Getaway necklace — a sterling-silver nautilus shell, set with brown and rose-cut diamonds and blue and green sapphires, from whose opening a small rose-gold man peeks out — and a Man in Shell earring, composed of a rock-crystal and rose-gold spiral shell inlaid with pink sapphires, also sheltering a male figure. A Mermaid Pearl earring is balanced on the rim of the glass.

In fact, for Bibi van der Velden, sculpture and jewelry are virtually indistinguishable. “In general,” she says of her jewelry, “I try to make something that doesn’t necessarily need a body to become something. It’s something you can just put down and appreciate by itself. It’s wearable sculpture.” The Hermitage ring, which also includes a tiny gold human figure emerging from an egg made of 60,000-year-old Siberian mammoth tusk, is a perfect example. So are her more wearable pieces, such as the Tulip and Ant choker. This comprises a gold flower ornamented with colored sapphires and opals attached to a stem that wraps around the wearer’s neck and along which climb tiny gold and silver ants, some with pearls in their mouths — a nod to the memento mori still-life paintings of the Dutch Golden Age.

“I’ve always been a collector,” says van der Velden, who was born in New York and raised in London and Amsterdam, explaining her attraction to jewelry making. “From when I was a small child, I had collections of collections. And I woke up one day and thought, ‘I have to do something with all these objects and materials I’m accumulating.’ ” Her first effort was a series of mixed-media conceptual pieces, but they left her frustrated. At the time, in addition to studying sculpture at the academy in the Netherlands, she was working as an assistant to a goldsmith and had developed a passion for the craft; “the answers just fell into place.”

Bibi van der Velden Moving Insect ring
In the Moving Insect ring, the creature’s tsavorite-embellished upper wings open to reveal its rock crystal body, which houses three tiny gold human heads.

Nearly two decades later, her passion for collecting continues to inform her work. The mood boards that dominate several rooms of her Amsterdam studio, for instance, are hung with photographs and pages that she’s cut out from magazines and that spark ideas for designs.

Produced in small, limited editions, van der Velden’s jewels are cast and hand set in Bangkok by a team she has been working with for more than 15 years. The workmanship is as exquisite as it is technically innovative, from the pearls inlaid with precious gems, to the fragile gold wings of a fantasy insect that quiver and wave around its white pearl body, to the delicate scarab wings encrusted with sapphires and gold.

Bibi van der Velden rings
Left: The Big Tulip ring‘s gold petals are set with brown and white diamonds and tsavorites. Details include a tiny, blackened-silver human head among the flower’s pistils and, crawling over and under the petals, blackened-silver ants, one of which guards seed-pearl eggs. Right: The Slug stackable ring, embellished with brown diamonds, features cabochon citrine for the creature’s eyes. The Caterpillar ring is set with tsavorites, amethysts and sapphires in various shades.

Recently, van der Velden has discovered a new passion: surfing. Like collecting and goldsmithing, it has changed her life. She and her husband (and business partner), Thomas de Haas, are so enthusiastic about the sport that they recently moved with their two children to the coast of Portugal. She now commutes constantly, to her Amsterdam studio and to Thailand to check on production. “It’s a challenge,” she says, “but it was time for a new adventure.”

Clockwise from left: Diamond Scarab Stars ring, Monkey on Banana earrings, small Tulip ring, Mammoth Alligator Bite earrings and Monkey Palm ring

You might say that Bibi van der Velden lives her life the way she sculpts her pieces: days strung together like pearls and scarab wings, carved with new adventures, and with secrets to discover — or create.

Shop Bibi van der Velden on 1stdibs

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